Lives of the fellows

Felix Post

b.25 July 1913 d.23 March 2001
MRCS LRCP MB BS Lond(1939) DPM(1942) MRCP(1944) MD(1961) FRCP(1963) FRCPsych(1971) Hon FRCPsych(1981)

Felix Post was one of the leading psychiatrists in the second half of the 20th century. The son of a scholarly father, a museum curator and historian of art and of costume, he was born in Berlin. Felix's mother was Jewish, and in 1934 he came to England and to Bart's to complete the medical education which he had started in Berlin. His parents survived the war, his mother living on into her nineties.

After medical house jobs at the Hammersmith (where one of his duties was to accompany the psychiatrist A J, later Sir Aubrey, Lewis [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI. p.284] on his visiting rounds) and at Whipps Cross, he took up psychiatry at the then Mill Hill Emergency Hospital (part of the wartime Maudsley). He was briefly interned as an 'enemy alien' on the Isle of Man, and in 1942 he moved to a psychiatric post in Edinburgh (where he acquired his membership of the College). There he was appalled by the 'hopelessness' of most mental illness before ECT. D K Henderson [Munk's Roll, Vol.V. p.188] urged him: 'look at all these old people here - why don't you write 'em up?' and as Felix put it 'that's what I've been doing ever since' ('Then and Now', British Journal of Psychiatry, 1978, 133, 83-86).

In 1947, after Army service, Sir Aubrey Lewis encouraged him to join the staff of the joint Bethlem-Maudsley Hospital, where he set up in Gresham ward at the Bethlem Royal a unique psychiatric unit for people over 60. In addition to his main work with older people, he had general psychiatric duties at the Maudsley. He remained at the joint hospital until he retired in 1978. The Felix Post unit for older people commemorates him there.

Felix was not only a pioneer of a new branch of psychiatry - the psychiatry of old age, or 'psychogeriatrics'- but he was also regarded as possibly the best teacher among the large and talented staff of the joint hospital. Many of his former students, now leaders in old age psychiatry, owe their discovery of that field to him. They wished to sit at the feet of a remarkable clinical teacher, and then found themselves fascinated by his beautiful expositions of psychiatric phenomenology in older people.

He was a lifelong researcher, especially on the affective and the paranoid disorders of later life, and his day to day work was conducted in a spirit of research. In out-patients, he would see the old patients, leaving his trainees to see the new ones before discussing them. That is how he produced his follow up studies, which were tours de force of personal, unfunded, scholarship, and which led to many papers and chapters and to his now famous monographs - The significance of affective symptoms in old age (London, Oxford University Press, 1962) and Persistent persecutory states of the elderly (Oxford/New York, Pergamon Press,1966). In 1965 he published a model single-author textbook, The clinical psychiatry of late life (Oxford, Pergamon Press), long a standard text until it was supplanted by a new generation of multi-author volumes.

Felix was the natural choice as first chairman of the psychogeriatricians in the Royal College of Psychiatrists (this group later became that college's faculty of psychiatry of old age). He tackled this role with enthusiasm, even though the interests of his younger colleagues in those days were mainly in developing district services, rather than in clinical research.

He was a foundation fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and was later made an honorary fellow. He was president of the section of psychiatry at the Royal Society of Medicine from 1969 to 1970. The British Geriatrics Society gave him its 50th anniversary medal 'in recognition of outstanding services to geriatric medicine'. The International Psychogeriatric Association honoured him with a special award in 1995. But Felix's name appeared in no national honours list, despite efforts of friends (which he would have deprecated) to obtain such recognition for him. Many of his pupils - without too great exaggeration one might even say most - became professors. It is ironic that he, one of nature's professors, was never accorded that title.

A memorable mixture of continental intellectual and English gentleman, Felix inspired affection as well as respect. He could seem formidable, though in his later years he mellowed greatly. But he was humble and kind. His famous sense of humour, while occasionally acerbic, was mostly directed at himself.

He married twice, his first wife Cecily having died in 1961. His second wife Kathleen, who with the son and daughter of his first marriage survived him, was his devoted companion for the second half of his life, sustaining him through cardiac by-pass and eye surgery, and sharing their joint pleasure in foreign travel. His retirement hobby was the study of creativity and mental disorder, and over many years he compiled some six hundred psychiatric vignettes of writers, artists and musicians, some of which were published, but most of which he brought together as a book, which it is hoped will be published posthumously.

He inspired a generation of pupils in many countries who, stimulated by his clinical teaching and research, built special services for old people. He also lived to see the impact of neuroscience on psychogeriatrics, a development he cheered on (if one may use those words about this most unflamboyant of men) with enthusiasm.

Tom Arie

(Volume XI, page 458)

<< Back to List